For a while, Game of Thrones has been pushing the idea that the stories that were told a long time ago in Westeros are not as factual as characters were led to believe. Whether they be foundational myths, like the Long Night or the construction of the Wall, or fables like Jon Snow’s parentage, or the White Walkers – since Season 1, the characters in the show have been coming up against the reality of their stories.
The most overt was Daenerys’ dragons, long after they had ceased to be a plausible part of the Game of Thrones universe. They might have existed a long time ago, the characters would think, but that’s all gone now. That time has passed.
In other ways, characters are having to revisit memories and realise their fallibility. Bran discovers that his father didn’t defeat Arthur Dayne at the Tower of Joy, but survived through the fortuitous back-stabbery of Howland Reed. Later, Jon is revealed to not be the eternally maligned bastard of an otherwise faithful Nedd Stark, but the son of Bran’s aunt, Lyanna, that Nedd raised and protected.
The truth behind the stories is always much more interesting, if more dangerous. As Tyrion says to Jon when he encounters the dragons for the first time:
‘I’d say you’d get used to them, but you never really do.’
And so Jon Snow has a hard time convincing Daenerys, and the world, that the White Walkers, the Night King and the army of the dead are a reality. These aren’t ghost stories for Westerosi children – they are the perilous, potential future.
And yet there’s something different occurring this season with the show. Something that became apparent when Jon and Tyrion are walking up the long, winding path to Dragonstone. These are the children of the story, the ones who used to believe the myths. Jon, Tyrion, Cersei, Jaime, Arya, Sansa, Bran, Theon, Yara and Daenerys. They are all the children of men who came before them, who passed on these epic tales of death, violence and destruction. But those men are all gone now.
The last length of time we spent at Dragonstone was with Stannis Baratheon, and the whole place seemed like it was cast eternally in darkness. Now the young people are here, walking these steps in the startling sunlight, bringing these myths into reality.
Jon and Daenerys deal with their problematic pasts at length in their first shared scene, each having to reconcile their future story with the narrative carved out for them by their forebears.
(It is interesting how Jon is happy to not judge Daenerys by her past, but she takes so much of her identity from her past and so seeks to identify Jon as a Stark. Like Bran with Hodor last season: the characters who learn from the past will succeed, rather than those who merely repeat it.)
Jaime and Cersei are doing likewise in King’s Landing, carrying on like children while the adults are gone. Or dead, because Cersei killed them all. She is intent now to make her relationship with Jaime part of the new reality for the kingdoms, despite it going against all their moral codes.
It’s worth taking a moment to consider their relationship and what it means for Jon and Daenerys. The Cersei-Jaime union is seen as a wrong in Game of Thrones. That much is clear from Tywin’s refusal to accept them, from the secrecy they needed to maintain, but also from it serving as the inciting incident for Bran’s fall in the pilot, leading to war. It would appear that we’re clearly heading for a dovetailing of plot-points at the end of this season, where Jon and Daenerys become involved at the same time that Bran (and probably Sam) discover Jon’s full parentage.
If Jon were aware, it’s unlikely it would happen. And so despite the probable union of Jon and Daenerys, I doubt we’re meant to be on board with it, or view it as a positive connection for the two lead ‘sympathetic’ characters.
(There’s a larger question here about how audiences will react to this, given where it fits into our own social mores, and so I think it’s likely the show is preparing us for the tragedy of this outcome.)
So while the children are busy making their own stories, the narrative swiftness of Season 7 is forcing something else to occur. They may be breaking free of past myths, but new ones seem to be occurring. Euron’s attack last week is less the anti-climactic tragedy of Game of Thrones’ early seasons, and much more the unrealistic stylings of legend. Melisandre tells Varys that they are both playing out parts in a larger story, which may not end well for them. And the Unsullied’s attack on Casterly Rock is narrated by Tyrion, presented almost in a way that suggests some of what we’re seeing is imagination, and some is fact.
Presenting these stylings alongside the speculation that Sam may become the ‘author’ of Game of Thrones, we also have Bran arriving at Winterfell and announcing that he is the Three Eyed Raven. He can see the whole story, but he hasn’t pieced it together yet.
Old myths are dying, but new ones are taking over.
As a postscript, Jorah’s cured state is revealed, and it’s clear he’s heading back to Daenerys. If the sum total of Jorah contracting greyscale, leaving Daenerys and getting cured is that he heads back to her again, then this is some wheel spinning on a level we haven’t seen before in the show.
There are two outcomes: either Jorah serves some crucially important part in the final season that is still unclear, or Sam will learn some crucial information about greyscale beyond just shearing it off and applying an unguent. That, too, is unclear yet, but given the economy this season seems to be adopting, it would seem strange to keep this thread and this character going were there not reward in the end.